Rangers should be shopping for a starter now

01/21/2014 11:29 PM

11/12/2014 3:47 PM

As a metaphor for where their starting rotation stands less than four weeks before spring training, the Texas Rangers began their annual mid-winter pitching camp Tuesday.

So let’s see. One starter was home in Japan. One was on crutches. One was having travel problems and couldn’t make it. One is recovering from three 2013 surgeries and was able to throw 35 pitches Tuesday. And another, also mending from surgery, sent along a selfie-video taken by his iPhone.

Forgive me for being snarky. Nobody wins a pennant in mid-January, I realize.

But this is starting to look like one of those reality TV home-remodeling shows, the ones where the homeowners peek in two days before the promise date, and there are walls and plumbing still missing.

Free agent Masahiro Tanaka won’t be a Ranger, it appears. Stories on Tuesday were speculating that the Japanese pitcher was about to sign a six- or seven-year deal worth an average of $20 million per season.

Too rich for the Rangers’ blood, they say. But hold that thought.

No one at Rangers, Inc., seemed concerned that their own Japanese ace, Yu Darvish, couldn’t make the pitching camp. Darvish’s off-season fitness might be the least of the team’s winter concerns.

“All good — knock on wood,” general manager Jon Daniels said of the reports on Darvish. “He’s somewhat entrenched in his workout program, and he said he felt good and asked if he could stay back. We didn’t want to interrupt what he’s doing.”

Two of the post-surgical starters, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis (as seen via iPhone), are said to be progressing nicely with a goal of joining the other pitchers on reporting date, Feb. 16.

“If [Harrison] is healthy,” Daniels said, “we have a pretty high degree of confidence he will perform.”

It’s the guy on crutches, though, whose absence from the workout Tuesday couldn’t be ignored. Left-hander Derek Holland faces a lengthy rehabilitation after undergoing microfracture knee surgery two weeks ago.

In part, finding a replacement for Holland in the rotation is what Tuesday was all about. As Daniels continues to insist, the Rangers are rich in internal candidates — Michael Kirkman, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and returning Lewis.

They will all get a chance when spring training convenes.

For a spot start or two or three, Kirkman or Ross could indeed make sense. But the recovery period for Holland’s surgery is said to be fraught with uncertainty.

What if Holland is out the entire season, I asked Daniels on Tuesday?

“What if he’s back in May?” Daniels shot back. “With any injury, there’s a range of possibilities. We tried to present the most responsible and likely scenario based upon what our doctors and medical staff are telling us.”

Even if Holland isn’t back until midseason — as the Rangers have speculated — it means that somebody has to fill in for around 20 pitching starts. Twenty games can easily be the difference between making the baseball postseason and not.

Yet, Daniels seems to be leaning away from bidding for the services of not only Tanaka, but also free agents Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza.

None of those four figure to sign for less than three years or $40 million.

Still too rich for Rangers, Inc., to get involved?

I don’t get their thinking. Every July as the trading deadline nears, the same thing happens — the Rangers scour the market for a pitcher who, they hope, will boost them into the World Series. The price has typically been two or more of their prized young prospects.

They may well get that boost again this July — when Holland returns. He should be considered the Rangers’ trade-deadline difference maker. And he won’t cost the annual prospects.

Without a July trade, Daniels and his staff should be looking at adding an impact starting pitcher now. The games in April, May and June will count just as much as the September ones.

Daniels’ answer Tuesday was that there may be another Jimenez or Garza already on their roster. They intend to find out.

Pardon my snarky opinion, but they need to be shopping elsewhere.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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